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A benefit sanction – withdrawal of benefit or a reduction in the amount of benefit paid for a certain period – may be imposed if a claimant is deemed not to have complied with a work-related condition for receiving the benefit in question. Benefit sanctions are not a new feature of the social security system, but major changes to the “conditionality” regimes for benefit claimants were introduced by the Coalition Government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012. The conditionality and sanction regimes for Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, and Universal Credit claimants are now broadly aligned.

The Government states that international evidence clearly shows that benefit regimes supported by conditionality reduce unemployment, and that the sanctions system in the UK is clear, fair and effective in promoting positive behaviours to help claimants into work.

Others question whether sanctions are in fact effective. In a report in 2018, the Work and Pensions Committee said that the evidence on the role of sanctions in achieving the goal of motivating people to engage with support and to take steps to move closer to work was “patchy”. The Committee also noted that sanctions, when applied inappropriately, can have a profoundly negative effect on people’s financial and personal wellbeing.

This debate pack provides background information on benefit sanctions in the UK social security system and policy developments over the last decade.

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